Predation in the Military: When Killers Turn Against Their Own

Nadia Asencio, USARNG

Nadia Asencio, USARNG

After being accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman while on temporary assignment in Virginia Beach, Petty Officer First Class Gregory Kyle Seerden, 31, of Missouri, had his cell phone confiscated by the he Naval Criminal Investigative Service. What they found on the Navy SEAL’s cell phone were 78 photos of child pornography, depicting young children – both male and female – in sexual situations including bestiality; and four homemade videos of a man, presumably Seerden, masturbating as he molests a sleeping female child (a relative), five or six years old. After a three-month long investigation, he was taken into custody on San Diego on April 17th, 2017.

Let me repeat. A Navy SEAL.

That the crimes are horrific in and of themselves goes without saying; that a Navy SEAL committed them is incomprehensible. The military is – or at least, has until lately been – a construct revered for upholding those values that we Americans profess to cherish most in our society: discipline, valor, integrity, basic human decency, and defending those who cannot defend themselves. How is it that the military has fallen so far from these standards? Where is the breach? Or are we just now understanding that the military has never really upheld these values amongst its ranks, at least, not as often as we would like to think?

The barbaric nature of this case reminds me of another equally brutal case that has never been resolved, that of Private First Class LeVena Lynn Johnson. Johnson died on July 19th, 2005, nine days before her 20th birthday, in Balad, Iraq. She had been there only eight weeks before her demise, the cause of which Army officials ruled a “suicide.” The Army refused to release any further information. However, LaVena’s father suspected foul play, and began an investigation that ended with Representative William Lacy Clay, Jr. asking the Army to release all autopsy information under the Freedom of Information Act. The report and related photographs revealed that PFC Johnson had a broken nose, a black eye, loose teeth, burns from a corrosive chemical on her genitals, and a gunshot wound which seemed inconsistent with a suicide. The case garnered international attention, but the Army refused to investigate the case further. The family never received answers as to who had attacked their daughter, nor if her attackers were also her killers.

Let me repeat. A 19-year-old girl.

Cases of assaults, rapes, and questionable deaths are, alarmingly, becoming less rare and more common in the military, a sign that the leadership is failing. When similar crimes were committed in the Catholic Church, the leadership there also avoided media attention with cover ups, preferring to relocate the accused instead of trying them in court. We also see this type of behavior in our public and private school system, where teachers accused of illicit behavior with their students are often simply relocated to another district where they will, no doubt, continue their predation unpunished. Nothing changes until either a group of victims stand up in alliance against their attackers, or a ranking official decides that it’s more important to protect the innocent and prosecute the guilty, than it is to save the image of the organization.

Which brings me to the military. Whether or not one believes that the military should be held to a higher standard, whether or not one believes that the military has a sacred oath to uphold, the reality is that the military is paid by and beholden to the American taxpayers, period. And savagery against our own people – against any people except, perhaps, those who practice savagery themselves – cannot stand. Until the American people exercise their political influence to create change, this behavior will continue unabated. Until service members find the moral courage to speak out against the criminals within their ranks – both peers and superiors – this predation will flourish.

Failing to cull the military herd of predators and rapists has dire repercussions. History has already shown us what happens when a military is allowed to turn against its own, against the defenseless, and against the innocent: their savagery is easily exploited, often, and tragically, used against the very people they once vowed to protect.